Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education Part 2

At an organizational level, it is imperative that institutions revisit their culture, behavioral norms, operations, and structure to determine whether they promote and value diversity of stakeholders and thinking, provide a sense of belonging for all, and remove barriers to success. Achieving these goals will not only position institutions as leaders in their fields or industries but will also create a stronger and more effective culture in which all are valued and contribute to the best of their ability, resulting in better overall institutional outcomes.

In case you missed it, read Part 1 of this post here: Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education. Continue reading below for Part 2.

Identify Clear Priorities

Next, the institution should work with its stakeholders to identify its strategic DE&I priorities—including related goals—that align to the vision and commitment statement to ensure the organization can continue along its DE&I journey. For higher education institutions, these priorities will likely address the people dimension of the organization (faculty, staff, students, and alumni), the educational agenda (training and curriculum itself), and the various communities (campus, local, regional, national, and global). For each priority, the organization should articulate goals, outcomes, strategies, and actions to support achieving DE&I transformation. Outcomes could include increasing diversity in the larger community, shifting the culture to one of greater belonging, and removing barriers to success. As part of this, institutions will then define the tactical actions needed to achieve these strategies. To promote inclusion, this will include defining key behaviors, as well as establishing training and development programs. To promote equity, it will require a special focus on mitigation and support strategies related to removing barriers. Examples of the specific tactics that can be leveraged to increase DE&I can be found in the graphic below.

Attain Partners DE&I

Measure Progress

As colleges and universities progress on their DE&I journey, they will need to implement an approach and mechanisms to measure their progress related to each priority. To meet this objective, it is critical to define success via achievable outcomes. Without this step, colleges and universities will not have a benchmark to support their learning efforts and help determine if they are achieving the desired results. As a sub-step of this activity, organizations should define key performance indicators (KPIs). This will likely include metrics such as percentage of leadership, student, faculty, postdocs, and staff by race and sex, percent retention and graduation rates by race, sex, and discipline, achievement rates by race, sex and discipline (i.e., A, B,C and D,F,W rates[1]), and survey results on engagement, inclusion, and equity (i.e., campus climate questionnaire). Defining these outcomes will enable continuous monitoring, reporting, and mid-course corrections. This will position the institution to iterate and update their strategies on a recurring basis to ensure they align with the vision. Each college and university will require a unique approach on their DE&I journey, and measuring the activities will ensure that they can be adjusted to meet each institution’s needs.

Schools with leading DE&I programs, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)[2] and Stanford[3], have elected to make dashboards of their equity- and inclusivity-related data public. This extra step may not be viable for institutions with new DE&I programs. However, all colleges and universities should establish a methodology for tracking and reporting on the KPIs and align ownership to a specific role or group. This will ensure that the institution can continually monitor its progress, and strategically and collectively address emerging trends.

Attain Partners DE&I Methodology

Create Permanent Change

Lastly, transparency and the effective use of change management techniques will be critical to the success of these efforts. Creating an inclusive culture of belonging where barriers are removed will require a culture shift across the large and complex institutional community. To be effective, the institution should consider change management tactics such as communication, training, coaching, and resistance management. Colleges and universities should not shy away from acknowledging past wrongs and missteps on the DE&I journey to ensure they are creating a culture of transparency and accountability. This will ensure that the changes are fully adopted and the DE&I vision can be realized.

These efforts will require grit and determination on the part of the organization, as the DE&I evolution cannot occur overnight. Rather, it will take many years of applied effort to create an inclusive campus where barriers are removed, and all members of the community can belong.

Attain has worked with both public and private higher education institutions across the United States to successfully develop and implement their DE&I strategy and outcomes.

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About the Authors

Reshma Patel-Jackson

Reshma Patel-Jackson is a Senior Principal and the Practice Leader for the Management Consulting business of Attain Partners. She is responsible for and involved in a wide range of consulting initiatives, primarily on change management, strategic planning, business process improvement, organizational assessments, project management, and research administration. Mrs. Patel-Jackson is a Prosci® Certified Change Management Practitioner who has extensive knowledge and training in the field. She has provided strategic planning, project management, change management, internal audit, compliance, and costing services for a variety of not-for-profit, Higher Education, government contracting, and commercial clients.

Diane Scott, Attain Partners

Diane Scott is a Senior Consultant at Attain Partners and possesses over twelve years of experience supporting Higher Education. She is a process improvement professional with a demonstrated history of management consulting and client relationship management. Her detailed understanding of university business helps her support client needs related to strategy, business process improvement, and change management. She holds an MBA from the Georgetown-McDonough School of Business, is a certified research administrator (CRA), and is a Prosci® Certified Change Management Practitioner.


[1] ABC and DFW rates refer to the grade achieved by each individual student. A, B, C, D, and F refer to the standard grading scale. W refers to withdrawals.

[2] MIT Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Data. https://diversity.mit.edu/diversity/mit-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-data. Accessed on 3/12/2021.

[3] Stanford Diversity Works Reports and Data. https://diversityworks.stanford.edu/resource#select=.reports-and-data.faculty. Accessed on 3/12/2021.